It was the night of April 18,1775 and Paul Revere was waiting for the signal. When Paul saw the two lanterns suddenly glowing from the Boston's North Church, he rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown where he mounted a horse and started his famous ride to Lexington. Revere arrived in Lexington about midnight, warning townspeople as he rode that the British were coming, and later that morning, he and William Dawes warned Concord as well. When the British reached Lexington, the colonial soldiers were waiting for them, setting the stage for the first actual battle of the American Revolution.
The Revolutionary War erupted on April 19, 1775. The reason that the British and the Americans resorted to using arms, after a decade of fighting verbally and ideologically over the rights of British subjects in the colonies, was because both sides had finally become convinced that force alone could and would decide the issues which divided the empire. A month earlier, Patrick Henry, during the Second Virginia Convention, delivered his most famous and passionate speech. His words became the clarion call that led the colonies into Revolution with courage and eloquence, he cried, "I know not what course others may take, but as for me give me
or give me
That morning, the 19th of April, 1775, the British force marched into Lexington encountering approximately seventy Minutemen, many who were unarmed but willing to stand up for their rights. Minutes later shots rang out and eight colonists lay dead and one British soldier was wounded. The war had begun and American blood had been spilled. Later that day, the British marched on towards Concord to destroy colonial munitions and were rebuffed by the Minutemen. Many people on both sides were killed and the British retreated to Boston, losing many troops along the way. The Battle of Concord had sent a message that people were willing to die for their ideals of freedom. This message reached people in many countries; subsequently, people came to say that the Minutemen at Concord had fired "the shot heard around the world."
As the British retreated from Concord, the colonists followed them to Boston. The patriots set up camps around Boston and built defenses on Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill, hoping to contain the British troops in Boston. Shortly before dawn on June 17th, the British began shelling Breed's Hill in Charlestown, setting fire to most of the area. More than 2,500 British troops attacked, capturing the fortification only after the colonials had run out of gunpowder and suffered incredible losses. The British drove the colonials first from Breed's Hill and then from Bunker Hill, which was to become the bloodiest battle of the entire American Revolution. The British won the battles but suffered huge losses. One British general had noted that the battles had filled him with horror. The British now fully understood that the colonials were ready to fight.
Meanwhile, the Second Continental Congress had met on May 10, 1775 and George Washington was elected commander of the patriotic forces. The delegates voted to mesh the various colonial militia into the Continental Army. The British rejection of the Olive Branch Petition, an effort to prevent a final split with England, stiffened the patriots' resolve towards independence. England's response to this petition was to send 25,000 additional soldiers to the colonies. It was the largest troop deployment that England had ever sent overseas; this huge force arrived in New York in 1776.
By early 1776, Americans were ready to denounce any allegiance to the British Crown.
In January of that same year, Thomas Paine published
a brochure that strongly served to rally Americans to independence. Paine had sensed the rise of tension and the spirit of rebellion that had steadily mounted in the colonies after the Boston Tea Party, and when the fighting had started, in April, 1775, with the battles of Lexington and Concord. In Paine's view, the colonies had the right to revolt against a government that imposed taxes on them but which did not give them the right of representation in the Parliament at Westminster. And he went further: for him there was no reason for the colonies to stay dependent on England.
In this statement Paine states that sooner or later independence from England must come, because America has lost touch with its mother country. In his words, all the arguments for separation from England are based on "nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments and common sense". Government was a necessary evil that could only become safe when it was representative and altered by frequent elections. The function of government in society ought to be only regulating and therefore as simple as possible. Not surprising, but nevertheless remarkable was his call for a declaration of independence. Due to the massive number of pamphlets sold (approximately 500,000), Paine's influence on the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 was great. Paine's writing convinced many of his countrymen to disown the monarchy and replace it with a republic. As long as Americans deluded themselves with the hope that they could be free and yet remain British subjects, Paine believed that the cause of liberty was doomed.